You tell the boy how many times you’ve saved his life.
You see and feel that the boy believes the words you speak into his ear and into his head. You are leading him. You are his savior, his yeoman, his polestar, his mentor. Even though he’s never seen you, you can feel his feelings and hear his heartbeat when you are at his ear. You and he are one now. If he tried to mislead you he would be lying to himself and it would be futile. He knows this. You can feel that too. It’s good to be on the same page.
You’ve told him about the lights. He believes what you say and it scares him to his core. Your voice in his mind scares him. But you can feel he knows you are real and not a daydream or a flight of fancy or a malady of the mind. You are as genuine as the salt and pepper shakers on the table before him. You are as authentic as the waiter approaching him now with a tired flannel over one arm and a pencil behind an ear.
When you whisper conspiratorially in the boy’s ear, you don’t tell him why you’re helping him. You keep that to yourself. You are holding the reins. It’s your right to hold things back. You’ll tell him that when the time is right and you need to cash in his chip. But that’s a long way off yet.
He has no idea of the meaning of the lights seeking him out. The boy sees them and fears them, but he doesn’t know their true purpose or where they come from. You will not tell the boy. You are not lying to him. But your knowledge has been earnt through much more experience and turmoil than he could ever fathom. You are entitled to the secrecy.
You taste the fear in him, metallic and acrid. It is ambrosia. It is a fine wine on your lips. You understand how fear affects him. It is your tool. Your crutch.
You are slightly smug in the knowledge that the boy is more scared of the lights than he is of you. And he should be. You’ve taught him well. Their danger is imminent and decisive. Cold and cruel. With you his destiny is fluid as mercury. An eternity of possibilities. You’d warned the boy once more that a light was coming for him.
I’d been hearing the voice in my head for a while. Ever since my mothers funeral actually. I can still feel the clinical cold of the funeral parlour when I saw her face that last time. A waxen imposter looking like my mother, posing in the grand mahogany coffin like a sick joke. The doily pillows under her head that I knew she wouldn’t like. The overly somber, overly ornate grey dress she wouldn’t have chosen. My mum didn’t really like frilly, fussy things. I doubt she’d want to be marooned in the ground with them either.
I didn’t cry as I turned away. My family watched my movements incredulously. I’d possibly been acting oddly since the cancer beat her. I’ve thought about it since and I’m still not sure why I didn’t cry or why I behaved in a way not befitting a son who’s lost his mother. But when I heard the voice whisper in my mind as I turned my back on her corpse I whimpered slightly. My father noticed and he read that as a sign of acceptance of what I’d lost, I think. I’m sure I saw relief in his face. But I, and the voice, know it wasn’t what he thought. I wasn’t grieving my mother. I was just petrified of the strange voice invading my head.
I can recall the voice as I heard it that first time. It was too close. Too intimate. Breathy and almost erotic in my ear. It made me flustered and hot with its close unhealthy friendliness.
If you don’t listen to me now James, before the day is through you will be as dead as your mother, the voice said, immobilising my thoughts but quickening my pulse. My legs almost gave way and I’m not sure how I made it to the funeral home toilets where I hid. Sat on the floor in a cubicle, holding my head. Screwing my eyes tightly shut, thinking I was going mad. Perhaps a voice from beyond the grave trying to fracture my sanity? Surely this place was familiar with ghosts, apparitions or whatever else it may be that was bullying my rationale.
Shall I have a hole made up for you James, or will you do as I say?
I shivered and twitched inside, my innards going cold as the toilet porcelain my forehead was resting against. My stomach felt just about ready to fall through the floor like I’d swallowed lead. At least I was in the best place if I couldn’t hold it.
When you leave the cemetery to go home today, make sure you are in the car with your father James. Do not go in the car with your Aunts. Do what you have to. Make a stink. But be sure to leave in the car with your father. Or that second hole will be all yours. Do you understand James?
I confirmed inwardly that I did even though I was panic stricken and had no idea what was happening to me. The voice seemed satisfied with my acquiescence. I put on a show of tears to my father when he suggest I go in the car with my aunts. To maximise car space, he’d said quite sensibly. How did the voice know? It was such a random inconsequential thing to predict. Designated car sharing of all things. How dull? I was convinced then the voice and what it had said was real. I was way too scared to ignore it by that point. I’d seen my mother lowered into the maw of the black hole dug for her. I didn't want one of my own. Who would?
I said to my father I needed to be with him now. Starting with the ride home, right now! I said it was all too much and I needed to be close to him. I did what I knew I had to, but I still feel bad about lying to him.
The car I was instructed to avoid crashed later that day on its way to my house. A BP lorry skipped a red light, causing catastrophic mayhem. The driver was dozing at the wheel when he slaughtered two of my fathers sisters. Onlookers to the carnage professed to seeing a fuzzy white light dart and fizz away erratically from the wreck. It was dismissed as a result of the volatile incendiary cargo the lorry carried. My aunts being burned to their bones, another result of that very same cargo. My dad hugged me like I’d never known that night. I can only imagine the horrific “what if” thoughts that must have gone through his head. He said he was sorry and kissed me on the head while crying into my hair. I never did figure out what he was apologising for.
I jumped once more when the voice bullied its way into my mind, much as I did that first time. It has spoken to me lots but it gets no less terrifying.
I was on my way to football practice when I felt a tingle at the nape of my neck. A fuzziness in my head. A hazy light slowly sparked into life, hovering in the air at the bus stop I use to get to the sports field. The voice spoke up - Don’t go to practice today James. You see it don’t you? The light? You know what that means now I’m sure?
I knew what it meant. I paid heed to its warning. Instead of the bus stop I fell into a fast food diner I’d been in once or twice before. The milkshakes were great but the chips always undercooked and greasy. I had music from my phone in my ears when the voice interrupted. My glorious enjoyment of Waterfall by The Stone Roses (one of my mother’s favourites that reminded me of her) cut short by the cloying voice that I never felt happy to hear.
‘What can I get for you today?‘
‘Erm, I’ll have a chocolate milkshake please’, I said to the tall skinny waiter, suddenly looming over me. His acned face and greasy hair making me wince at the thought of him making my milkshake. I wondered if he used the same grease in his hair that was used for the chips.
‘Coming right up. I’ll leave you a menu just in case you want anything to eat’. He placed the menu between the salt and pepper shakers, standing upright on its spine like toast in a rack. He meandered away while taking a pencil from behind his ear in case of imminent emergency note taking, I guessed.
I thanked him and took a look at the menu. Seeing through it. Doing anything to avoid thinking about why I was here instead of heading to practice. I knew what the voice and the impromptu gauzed light meant. I was supposed to die. That was the go-no-go point of my life. Or my death. If I went to take the bus I would die. If I walked away and had a milkshake I would live. But that’s how arbitrary life is. It’s just that I had an early warning system on my side. Laying bare the decisions that meant my life or my death. But always my choice to make. And I still didn’t know why it was happening. Why was the voice looking out for me?
Well done James. Well done. I’ll let you into a little secret. If you watch through the window you will see a white van with an illustration of a key on the side. In that van there is a gentleman who is a hunter. He hunts children. He’s still early in his career. But if you had stood at that bus stop you would have been his second victim. Your dead, naked, defiled body would have been found in woods three days from now. You know what defiled means don’t you James?
I knew what it meant. And I had no doubt that what the voice was telling me would have happened. I would have been defiled and murdered, found rotting in the woods. I felt dizzy and sick. I doubted I’d want the milkshake now. I thought suddenly of my father. How the news would break him. He wouldn’t be able to cope with anything else horrible happening in his life. And especially not to his only child. The tragedies he’d been through had already made him look older than he should. A defeated hollowness sat in his once vibrant eyes. If I weren’t there though I dread to think how he would continue to live.
Your father wouldn’t continue to live James.
I stupidly forgot my thoughts were not my own any longer.
Another slice of golden knowledge for you here James. Insider information, let’s say. If anything happens to you it will kill your father inside. And he will kill himself. He will go into the back garden under darkness of night. He will use his mobile phone to illuminate the Apple tree you have there next to the shed. He will struggle for a while to make the noose correctly. Even though he will have looked it up on YouTube. But eventually he will construct one strong enough to bare his weight. He will take a pile of logs from the kindling he uses for the log burner in your living room. He will stand on the logs and put his neck into the noose. With tears in his eyes he will kick away the logs. The rope will creak on the bough of the tree. And he will think of you as he dies, horribly and alone.
I almost started to blub at the account. Picturing an unwelcome image of my father dying on the end of a rope. I didn’t want images of his bulbous bloodshot eyes or his tongue lolling out of his lifeless mouth lodged in my mind. I didn’t want to picture him while he panic-struggled as the life left him. But those were the exact things I imagined. I just couldn’t help it.
With my mouth dry I gulped back a strained sob. My throat as arid and parched as a sand bank. I played my music again and looked out of the diner window, having to clear the condensation with my palm to let in the outside world. I’d not felt part of that world now for quite some time. Not completely. It looked like a stage play to me. An amateur dramatic tragedy. The window squeaked like a fat mouse as I cleared it. And outside on the street. Sure enough. Clear as day. A white transit van with a black key logo on the side was parked for a moment by the bus stop.
I didn’t doubt the validity of what the voice had told me would happen. But to see the stark reality in front of my eyes was a complete otherness feeling. A head spinning moment of dislocation that yanked me from a momentary life of a normal child and back into my life of fear and paranoia. How was I supposed to live like this, knowing what I know? Seeing what I’ve seen?
A killer, right out there. In the normal everyday world. People walking by, oblivious to a predator laying in wait amongst them. Hunting their children.
‘One chocolate milkshake’.
I jumped and one earphone fell to the floor at the sudden voice of the waiter and the glass landing on the table like a coffin lid.
‘Sorry I made you jump, pal. You were in another world there. Everything OK?’
It was nice of him to ask me that. And I did the nicest thing I could possibly think of by not telling him what I knew.
‘Yes, I’m fine. Thank you, very much’. I was doing a very poor job of sounding like a normal person. Speaking like a staccato idiot.
‘Actually, can I ask you a favour please? Could you just look out there and tell me if you see a white van with a drawing of a key on the side?’ I asked him, but knew the answer he’d give.
‘Errrr, yeah, no problem. There it is. White Transit. Key on the side’, he replied, looking at me, ready for more instructions or at least a hint of why I was asking him this. Or maybe just enjoying a brief distraction from his job.
‘Right. OK. Good. Thank you very much’.
I didn’t really expect the van to not be outside. Not even for a moment.
‘You’re very welcome’, the waiter replied. He seemed disappointed that the mystery ended there for him. He wiped a little spilt milkshake from the table with the cloth he had. I thought he’d been a little over-zealous when he put the drink down.
Enjoy the milkshake James. I’ll speak to you again very soon. You can bet your life on it.
As I’d remembered, the milkshakes here were very very good. But still, I didn’t have the stomach to finish it.